Boiling brownies and other hazards of life at sea level.

I’ve been living on the coast of Maine for 10 days now, and I’m utterly useless at functioning at sea level.

First, I can’t bake at 20 feet altitude. In the ten years that I’ve lived in the mountain west, I’ve redone all my recipes for altitudes of about 4700 feet.

Here’s my fantastic, greatest brownies at sea level:

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Yes, the butter is boiling. And they are “done.”

My daughter’s 8-year-old friend, born and bred in Maine, peered at the pan as I pulled it out of the oven and said innocently, “Why don’t you just make regular brownies?”

Thought I did, sweety.

My brain doesn’t know how to function this close to the ocean. Like a dull blanket tossed over my head, I’m heavy-brained and slow. It’s not the scenery, which is beautiful. In fact, it looks a great deal like my favorite place on earth: Yellowstone.

The photos above are from West Quoddy, Maine. (Which is actually east?)

But Yellowstone is about 8,000 feet above sea level. I’m a genius in Yellowstone! If I could live there for three months, I could solve every major world problem AND write the greatest American novel. I can THINK there!

But in Maine, I stare at the fridge trying to understand where the milk went until a child (a child under 10, mind you) points out that the gallons are in the door.

Heaven help me.

There have been studies that show people who move to high elevations, like Denver or Salt Lake City, often struggle. Lab rats demonstrate hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, which leads to depression.

I think a reverse happens for me, that my mind can’t handle this thick oxygen so it slogs aimlessly, trying to understand Maine.

For example, they make hot dogs this bright red . . . on purpose.Image result for maine red hot dog

I checked the label, and there’s not one but two red food dyes, so this is intentional. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but I can’t grasp it.

Another example: there are no screens in the windows in this house (or in most houses—yes, I’ve been peering at other people’s windows; I’m already getting a reputation around here). Insects here are very determined. Three evenings ago, I cracked opened a window in bathroom to vent it (no exhaust fan, which may have gone the route of the screens) and found in the morning a massive gathering of moths and bugs hovering around the bathroom light, plotting their new government.

In the mornings, I come at them with paper towels to reduce the invasion force before my kids see them massing and panic.

Tonight I’m sure they’ll have a caucus about how to combat the Evil Hand of Wiping that reduces their forces every morning.

Wait—maybe tonight I’ll remember to close that crack in the window before I go to bed.

Took me three days to realize that may be a viable solution.

I can’t function at sea level.

We’ve been blessed to have friends who tell us each day how life is like in Maine (see, Kim Smith? I mentioned you and Mike) and have kindly said, “Um, but this is how it is in Maine. You have to adjust.”

It’s not like it’s bad; it’s just not what I expect. For example, these flowers, lupines, grow everywhere wild in fantastic displays. I can’t fathom that. There are also very few dandelions. The lupines have eaten them. Brilliant.

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There are wild Labradors in the waters of Maine. Or maybe this was someone’s pet, I’m not sure.

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I’m not sure of anything here.

The town doesn’t pick up trash, but Tony will, once a week, if you call him. He pulls up on Thursdays with his truck and tosses our bags in the back for what destination, I don’t know. I’m just grateful. The stove runs on a propane tank, but the water heater is electric, and the toilet flushes upward to a septic tank and leach field about 20 feet up the hill above our house.

I can’t fathom physics here.

Depending upon the time of day, the water in the tidal river either flows up or down in front of my windows. My head spins trying to keep track of the tides. Sometimes the water is dead flat, reflecting everything perfectly like a lake.

I can’t figure out why.

People are very friendly, even though they drop their “r”s and remind me of Mr. Quint and his siblings on “Curious George,” which is comforting.

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Thank you for being patient, Mainers, and for letting me call all of you Mr. Quint.

This meme will also work here. Replace Boston with Maine:

Image result for boston khakis meme

The small town parade on the Fourth of July, however, was just like our small town parades back in the west, with balloons and streamers on ATVs, and fire engines honking, and random pieces of candy tossed out of vehicles to friends along the roadside. A few hit us. Chocolate. Because it’s not 98 degrees outside, but only 73, they can throw chocolate. Brilliant. Some things have felt like home, I just need to keep finding those.

This, below, didn’t feel like home, but it was exciting: Eastport, Maine, on the Fourth of July with a navy destroyer behind us.

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I told my kids that while standing on that pier, we were further east than anyone else in the United States. That’s when my 17-year-old son, who didn’t even want to leave the van and stood in protest behind my husband taking the picture, said, “But Mom, there are about a dozen more people further east than us on this pier. They win.”

That’s my ray-of-sunshine child, my builder of confidence. He was absolutely right. And since it was overcast, I’m not even sure if we were east or not. I’m just making things up as I go along, as I’ve been doing ever since I got to Maine.

I didn’t get lost getting to the post office or the recycling center yesterday, so I take those as small victories.

And seeing as how I didn’t even realize it was Wednesday, the day I usually write my blog, until the day was nearly over (and why this posting is coming on Thursday), I’m gonna take every victory I can get until I figure out how to function at sea level.

It’s still June, right?

Move: Day 6+ From Utahns to Maine-iacs

“I don’t know where it is.”

“Since I don’t have a linen closet–or any closets for that matter–just stick that in my bedroom.”

“Did I say garage? I meant the cellar. No! BATHROOM!”

“Since I don’t have a laundry room, just stick that in the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom!”

“Don’t panic yet–it’ll turn up eventually.”

And that sums up all the sentences that have come out of my mouth since Saturday at 5:30 p.m. when we finally cruised into Machiasport, Maine.

I didn’t feel I could sit down and update this blog until the house was in somewhat sort of livable condition, and since it’s about 150 years old, and my kids are used to clean, updated, new-paint-and-flooring houses, they’re dying in this rental which they claim will NEVER be livable because the wood floors are older than any structure west of Nebraska and the smell of “old damp” permeates everything, and their idea of “charming” is not the same as the local definition (but Mainers say it’s a FANTASTIC house so my kids are getting nervous) . . . where did I begin this sentence? Yeah, it’s been nonstop for the past two days.

(And yes, my washer and dryer are in the very big bathroom because it was originally a bedroom because this house was built LONG before indoor plumbing, so a claw-foot tub is smack-dab in the middle of the room, a shower is in one corner, the washer and dryer are in another corner, and the toilet stands at the head of it all like a throne in a plumbing castle. The door opens to smack it so you need to brace yourself in case someone barges in since the lock is also over a hundred years old and we’re all terrified to lock it because we might not ever get out again.)

So we left Concord, NH Saturday morning (I was about to take pictures of all the New Hampshire license plates, since it’s rare that you see those, until my 20-year-old reminded me that we’re not in the west anymore but were, in actuality, in New Hampshire) and we made decent progress until we realized it was a sunny weekend in summer and everyone was going to the beach.

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And then, finally,  we saw THE SIGN!

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And I thought, “The snacks lasted! We didn’t run out of drinks! There are still toys to play with! We made it!”

And then about an hour later my 18-year-old reported that the inside of the minivan was dripping water on her foot, and we decided the AC didn’t know how to respond to humidity and we were NOT about stop anymore, so we kept on for three more hours until we saw . . .

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“Hey kids–do you know they grow blueberries here? The small ones and the big ones?”

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Over the radio I heard, “Mom and Dad, where have you brought us? Is that seriously an all-blue tourist trap?” Yes, so was the Ford dealership (and also the cake someone delivered for us: blueberry and cinnamon, which didn’t last long at all).

 

And then, finally:

That’s when I started speaking only in the five lines listed above. Our branch of the church sent out the call and for the next hour and a half I was in the truck handing out boxes and bins and saying all the wrong words because sea-level makes me dizzy (seriously–happens every time I descend from my mountains, but it wears off in about three or four swirling days). Then suddenly the truck was empty, generous families filled our fridge with pulled pork and baked ziti and noodle-meatball-bbq sauce casserole, and I stared out at the fields of wild lupines everywhere (photos to come) and I wondered just what had happened.

Well, first, there was an explosion of boxes in our house which still hasn’t been cleared but should be gone in another day or two.

Second, I discovered that morning comes VERY early here in the Sunrise County, meaning that the sun was pouring into my east-facing windows, reflecting off the water so that I was facing the brightness of TWO suns and I thought, “Well the sun’s pretty high already, time to get up to keep unpacking some more,” until I looked at the time and realized that the sun rises on the coast at FOUR-FREAKING-THIRTY A.M.!!! Yes, that 4:30 A.M! What is this, Alaska?

My husband brought home two dark gray flannel blankets that we’ve safety-pinned up as curtains for our bedroom.

Third, I discovered that the sun sets a bit earlier than I am used to, but that I have a pretty cool view out of my bedroom window. Here’s how it looked tonight at 8:30 p.m.:

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That’s my laptop on the bottom left, and that’s the sun setting on the tidal inlet, right in front of me.

Fourth, I’m slowly discovered what Maine life means–a little slower, more laid-back, less concerned about appearances, more honest and sincere (all of those are lovely, lovely things, as is the very British accent of my new neighbor) and the local McDonald’s has a different menu:

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We also learned that the very first naval battle in the Revolutionary War launched just a couple hundred feet from our rental house. It’s not quite as impressive as it sounds (a couple ships, a few shots fired), but there’s a whole building two down dedicated to its memory, and we’ll take that distinction.

This evening we took a break from two days of unpacking and trying to construct IKEA furniture, and headed down to Roque Bluffs to see the water, find a few shells, freak out our youngest son who we realized is terrified of the ocean (but went to it after bribes from his brothers for popcorn and Plants vs. Zombies), and to begin to take in where we now live.

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This morning I looked outside as the tide was coming in, noticed some critters leaving a wake, and knowing that seals frequently go up and back with the tide, took my bowl of cereal outside to eat and watch the water when the sun was where it normally would be at noon but it was barely 9 a.m. My life is very, very different now than I’d ever thought it would be, and while I’m utterly exhausted and thoroughly grateful our trip has ended without major incident and that all of us are here and slowly, slowly settling in, I think it’s going to be just fine.

 

Then I discovered that the old wooden Adirondack chair I was sitting in was giving me a splinter in my behind, and my up-far-too-early brain concluded that this moment–gazing out on an unusual and beautiful scenery with soggy cereal and a sliver in my butt–pretty much summed up life.

And that I really, desperately, need to catch up on sleep. Good night.

(Addendum–I was about to hit publish when my 5-year-old came in for his good-night kiss. I took him to his room, showed him that while he was playing I put together his bed, set up his toy bins under it, and put his four favorite pillows around the top. He squealed in delight and said, “Thanks, Mom! That’s all I wanted! You’re the best!” I’ll take that.)

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 1–House is cleaned, children are dense, Wyoming is long

Drive from Utah to Maine, Day 1

(Current location, Cheyenne, Wyoming. “No, kids—not Shee-YEE-NEE. I don’t care how you sound it out.”)

Woke up at 3:30 am in Hyrum Utah, because who can sleep when there’s 5 hours of cleaning to do, finishing packing two vans and a moving truck, and an 8-hour drive to Wyoming.

Stared at the dark ceiling until it was the late hour of 5:30 am when I took my hour-long Farewell Tour: I walked my normal route around my neighborhood saying quiet goodbyes and thank-yous to neighbors and friends and watching the coming sun slowly light up the Wellsvilles Mountains. I’ve pretty much run out of tears to shed about leaving where I finally thought we’d settle forever. Today I was just grateful for the time.

Spent the next 5 hours cleaning and cleaning (I’ll have nightmares tonight that I’m still not done), and saying goodbye to friends who dropped by, even though I was hoping for a French Exit, as my mother used to call it. “Sneak away when no one’s looking, and if someone does see you, say only ‘Au revoir’—never say ‘Good-bye’. That’s too final.” Agreed. Still, people insist on being nice and bringing us travel treats and hugs, dang them.

11:45 am took my last stroll through the house where we lived for nine years, where I felt the most at home of any home of the eight we’ve had over 29 years. I said goodbye, it didn’t say anything back (fortunately, but I was pretty tired so I wouldn’t have been surprised).

Took off at noon, each vehicle with a walkie-talkie and naming our vehicles. The moving truck my husband is driving is Jeremy, the minivan where my 20-year-old and 18-year-old drive is Hammond, and I in the 15-pax van am driving is Captain Slow. I wanted to change those designations after we discovered Penske truck rental had helpfully put a 70 mph limiter on the moving truck, and the 80 mph signs taunted us throughout Wyoming.

Less than an hour from home, got a text from my neighbor sad that she missed saying goodbye (French Exit was better—she always gets me crying). I handed the phone to my 17-year-old co-pilot. “Text her back! Tell her I’m sorry too, and that—”

17: “I’ve never texted before in my life, and I’m not about to start now.”

Something you should know about this boy: he’s a 67-year-old curmudgeon trapped in a teenager’s body. He hates kids on the lawn.

17: “Why don’t you call her like people should?”

Me: “This canyon’s dangerous and reception is spotty. Text her back!”

17: “It’s not like either of you is dying. You’ll see her again, if not now that in the eternities.” [eye-roll]

I want a different co-pilot. This one’s ridiculously sensible.

His 9-year-old sister in the bench behind us is bored:

9: Think of a word–

17: Apple.

9: No, let’s play hangman, and you think of a word–

17: Apple.

9: [exasperated sigh] Mom, think of a word.

Me: Ok, it’s got 5 letters. (17 is smirking already)

9: Is there an a?

Me: Yep, first letter.

9: Is there an e?

Me: Last one.

9: [after trying about seven other letters] Is there a p?

Me: Two of them.

9: [long pause] Wait, is it apple?

Hangman takes a long time in our car.

Overheard on our radios as we drove:

“Dad, how far until our dinner stop?”

“Your brother [age 13] say it’s one minute ten seconds away, but the rest of the world would read the tablet as ‘One hour, ten minutes.’”

Our 13-year-old has never been away from a working computer this long in his life. Everything is going to drag for him.

Then: “Dad, those are pronghorns, right?”

“Do they look like cows?”

“Just making sure.”

Everyone has a treat bag to last them for the six days it’ll take to travel. May have to restock by Tuesday afternoon.

Everything in Wyoming is named after butts. Buttes. Whatever. Only 50 miles into the drive I realized I’d be staring at my husband’s yellow Penske butt truck for the next six days. Going to haunt my nightmares along with the worry there’s another level to the house I forgot to clean.

I’ve stared out at the wide vistas many times, taking it all in because I won’t have so many views soon.

I snerk at those on the coasts who lament the country’s too crowded. They never driven through Wyoming. We’ll still be driving through it tomorrow. Since we have many more states to go, and still are only one state away from where we left, it’s not looking to promising. Then I remember the states get smaller as we go east.

The kids romped at the pool at the motel where we landed at 8:30 pm, now everyone’s crashing, as am I. I took pictures—blurry, sideways pictures with my compact camera (yes, I still have one) as I drove because 17 also doesn’t do pictures (I REALLY need a new copilot), but I’m too weary to post any tonight. I took a Benadryl to help me sleep (because I cannot sleep in motels, either). Should be kicking in about ten minutes from now . . . hence the rambling, blobby nature of this.

Picture this, since it will be clearer than my photos: Wyoming is long and wide and filled with scrubby brush. There’s a yellow truck in front of me. Pretty much it.

Tomorrow we will, God willing, make it to Iowa with our two 16-year-old vans, one truck, and six children and two parents. I’m letting 17 get some driving practice in the minivan with his 20-year-old brother on the long straightaways, and I’m looking for a new copilot. My 18-year-old daughter is a genius at texting, even though after a year of college she’s still not sure what a pronghorn looks like or how to pronounce Cheyenne.